Tales of Liberty

On the Fourth of July, along historic Liberty Road, a journey through portraits of American life.

Cover Story

July 04, 2004|By Stories by Larry Bingham and Linell Smith | Stories by Larry Bingham and Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

Liberty Road, which stretches nearly 50 miles from Frederick, past the Colonial-era homes of Libertytown to the rowhouses of West Baltimore (where it becomes Liberty Heights Avenue), has seen the passage of a distinctly American journey over the years.

Eighteenth-century farmers brought their bounty to city markets aboard wagons when it was still a dirt road. Before the Civil War, Libertytown was the largest slave-owning area of Frederick County. During the war, troops marched toward battle in Gettysburg along it. In the early 1920s, "trackless trolleys" along the road began moving city dwellers out to new suburbs in Randallstown. Since then, it has witnessed migration further into the countryside, seen older suburbs decay and new development spring up where farmers once toiled.

Today, along with farms and suburbs, its landscape includes strip malls and chicken restaurants, churches and schools, firehouses, hospitals and a college, and businesses ranging from casket makers to tattoo parlors. Its residents, and their ideas about America, are just as varied, as those portrayed here attest.

CONNECTING PAST TO PRESENT

Native Americans thought trees were intended to connect the earth with the sky, says cabinet maker Dean Perkins. Every time he begins to shape a new piece of wood into furniture in his Libertytown studio, he imagines the spiritual importance of the tree it came from and thinks about how best to preserve its character.

In his work, the 39-year-old artisan links America's past to present. His great-great-great grandfather was a full-blooded Mohawk from Bear Mountain, Va., who served in the Civil War under Stonewall Jackson. In naming his business Tree Spirit Tables, Perkins has tried to honor the respect his ancestors gave to the environment with his own appreciation for solidly built antiques that "allow us to know where we came from."

Perkins supplies one-of-a-kind farm tables, dining tables and other custom-built furniture to clients around the country. He and his wife, Veronica, who runs Town and Country Stables on Liberty Road, live next to the studio in a former country store built in 1795.

"It sounds corny, but I am living the epitome of the American Dream," Perkins says. "Nine years ago, we literally walked through this door with two banana boxes. ... Two years ago, we were able to buy the place. ... I feel blessed by God to be able to do what I do."

-- Linell Smith

HITTING THE ROAD -- NOW AND THEN

For 40 years, Charlie and Lucille Widerman have sold travel trailers and motor homes in Randallstown. The business has been so successful that they've had little time to use their own.

Now that the Widermans' three grown children are all involved in the day-to-day operations, the couple expect to see more of the country they love.

They traveled some when the children were younger, visiting historical sites to show the kids where American history was made.

"Camping is all about family," Charlie says.

Their friend Ruby Harbaugh, who has worked at the business on and off since 1978, often goes with Lucille and Charlie when they hit the road and is practically family. Ruby's been to 42 states. She's toured the East Coast from Maine to Florida, driven out to the desert Southwest and traveled down to Disney World 29 of the 33 years it's been open. Her favorite T-shirt, one she bought in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, says: "Home Is Where You Hook Up."

"They say the family that prays together -- and plays together -- stays together," Ruby says. "And here in this country you have the opportunity to do all three."

Lucille estimates she and Charlie have visited 20 states.

"Not as many as I'd like," Lucille says.

Nowadays, they may finally have time to catch up.

-- Larry Bingham

LIVING THE NEIGHBORLY WAY

Martie Weatherly tends her vision of America in the state's first cohousing community. Liberty Village is an updated vision of the ideal neighborhood -- a place where residents of all ages and backgrounds own homes while sharing in such activities as pre-paring meals and maintaining property.

Cohousing residents not only help plan their communities, but also organize and manage them. So far, 18 families have built homes on this 23-acre property near Frederick.

"To me, a precious thing about America is that a group of people can go in with a new idea and actually build a community," says Weatherly, 67, a grandmother of 12 who works as a supervisor at Frederick Memorial Hospital. "It hasn't been easy, but we've done well. We have homes that we love, and we have worked with our elected officials in a way that has sometimes been frustrating and sometimes really gratifying."

Liberty Village residents make decisions through consensus, rather than by majority rule. Weatherly wishes more Americans could embrace the Quaker perspective that each person possesses a piece of the truth.

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